West Hollywood West residents have organized to fight a proposal to dramatically expand a commercial building at 8899 Beverly Blvd. and add townhomes and affordable-housing units nearby.
Residents say the plan, put forth by building developer Townscape Partners, will threaten the neighborhood’s way of life. It is one of the few neighborhoods in West Hollywood characterized by single-family homes rather than apartment buildings.
Developers say they are only trying to improve upon an aging building, and that their plans will actually “de-intensify” use. Their plans largely hinge on whether they can convince the city to change zoning for the area, where multi-unit housing currently is not permitted.
“This will vastly change the nature of our street,” said Seth Meier, who is spearheading the neighborhood opposition and who lives directly across from the parking lot on which the townhomes would be built. “It will increase the density of our quiet neighborhood, and the proposed design isn’t in keeping with the other homes on the street.”
“It’s a de-intensification of use,” said John Irwin, one of the managing partners of Townscape Partners, the company developing the building. “This is the most green thing you can do for an obsolete building.”
The 8899 Beverly office building, commonly referred to as the ICM building because talent agency International Creative Management once had offices there, was built in 1962. It is known for its distinctive balconies and Mid-Century Modern style and has one level of underground parking. Facing Beverly Boulevard, it sits between Robertson Boulevard and Almont Drive. Shortly after the building’s completion, the owners purchased 12 residential lots on Rosewood Avenue directly behind the building and created a surface parking lot for the office tenants, buffering it from the residential neighborhood with a 10-foot wide stretch of green space.
In July 2012, a group called Beverly Boulevard Associates, a partnership of Townscape and Angelo Gordon & Co., a New York City investment firm, purchased the building and accompanying parking lot for $38.5 million. It began making plans to convert the building to condominiums and to develop the parking lot. Townscape also became active in local politics, donating $2,500 to a campaign committee opposed to term limits for incumbents. Its principals, Tyler Siegel and John Irwin, were donors to the campaigns of incumbents John Duran and Jeffrey Prang in the March 5 election.
The new owners plan to expand the building, currently 10-stories and 89,000 square-feet, by 25 feet at the rear and on both sides. The building’s upper floors will be converted to 59 condominiums (including seven units of affordable housing for low-income tenants), while leaving retail and offices on the lower two floors. The popular Italian restaurant Madeo will remain in the building.
Perhaps more controversial than Townscape’s plans for the 8899 Beverly building itself is the proposal to build an underground parking garage beneath the existing surface parking lot behind the Beverly building and then erect 14 townhomes with a pool and clubhouse on top of it. Townscape also proposes to erect a nine-unit building for moderate-income affordable housing nearby.
Irwin says changing the aging building from offices to a mix of residential and office spaces is
Residents worry that the townhomes will change the nature of their neighborhood, the affordable housing will bring crime and lower property values, construction will create noise and health problems, and they will lose the strip of green lawn that buffers the commercial building from their homes. Furthermore, they believe the city will set a dangerous precedent if it changes the zoning to accommodate the development.
A major concern is the impact on residential property values. West Hollywood West homes typically fetch prices in the high six figures, sometimes more than $1 million.
“It’s going to affect property values negatively, both in the short term during the construction and in the long term on that street,” said Brian Mazurkiewicz, a real estate agent with the John Aaroe Group. Mazurkiewicz lives in West Hollywood West, but on the eastern side of San Vicente Boulevard.
Tyler Siegel, the other principal in Townscape, disagrees. “I would not be building this if I thought it would lower the property values,” he said.
Whether Townscape can proceed depends on the West Hollywood City Council.
“The whole linchpin of the project depends on changing the zoning,” said Meier. “For them to be able to build anything involves changing the zoning.” City planners, however, have offered the developer another approach, suggesting it seek permission from the City Council for a “specific plan.” By granting “specific plan” approval, the city essentially removes an area from the existing zoning ordinances and establishes zoning for that specific parcel of land.
The City Council has permitted only three other specific plans zoning exceptions — one of the Sunset Strip, one for the Pacific Design Center and one for Movietown Plaza, the development project on the east end of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Local residents argue that even a specific plan designation might not allow the developer to build on the grassy strip behind 8899 Beverly. Some argue that the City of West Hollywood owns that land, having inherited it from Los Angeles County when the city was incorporated in 1984. Others believe the county still owns it. Irwin, however, says a 1967 document proves the 8899 Beverly building owns all the land up to the sidewalk on Rosewood.
City planners have not yet made a recommendation to the City Council on the project.
“We don’t have a position yet because it’s too early in the process,” said John Keho, the city’s planning manager, adding that his staff is merely working with the developer on the proposal at this point to help them improve it.
A neighborhood meeting held on Feb. 12 drew a packed house. Irwin and Siegel explained the project then listened to concerns of the neighbors, many of them irate. Several more public meetings will be held before the project goes before the Planning Commission and then the City Council for approval.
“There will be plenty of opportunities for the public to have input,” said Keho, pointing out that the city hasn’t yet commissioned an Environmental Impact Report, which typically takes 9-12 months to be completed. “This still has a long way to go.”